William Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is a fourteen line poem that contains three quatrains followed by a couplet. The poem is also known as Sonnet 18, and is a beautiful poem describing just that, a summer’s day. If one wishes to be technical, Shakespeare does more than describe a summer’s day, he is comparing an individual to a summer’s day. Shakespeare uses the literary devices imagery and diction throughout the poem.
Imagery is the one device that stands out the most due to Shakespeare’s intricate way of describing the summer day with such detail that the reader feels like they are there. Diction is an important literary device which I will focus on, because Shakespeare switches back and forth between abstract and concrete diction. Shakespeare used imagery to its fullest in this poem. Using the phrases summer’s day, buds of May, heaven shines, and so on… It all sounds so beautiful and the reader is able to picture all of these images as it brings a smile to the readers’ lips.
While reading the poem, the gender of the person to whom Shakespeare is comparing to a summer’s day is left unknown and can easily be confused with that of a woman, although the poem gives no indication of this relationship being a romantic one. The line that strikes me as being the most beautiful is “But thy eternal summer shall not fade” (Shakespeare 76). I as the reader can just imagine a summer that never ends, and the sound of that is pleasing to the mind. Thus this is the best example of how Shakespeare used imagery in this sonnet.
One that is a bit more difficult to understand is Shakespeare’s use of diction throughout the poem. Just like the rest of Shakespeare’s work, in this poem he primarily uses formal form of speech with words such as thou, thy, shall, nor. This choice of words was common when the poem was written back in 1609, but no longer is for the readers of this day and age, which makes Shakespeare’s choice of diction easily misunderstood. In this poem, Shakespeare uses concrete and abstract diction interchangeably.
Concrete language can be considered something specific or definite such as objects you can picture with your five senses such as walking, cold, lawn mower, etc… Shakespeare uses this type of diction scarcely throughout the poem with the following words: buds, hot, shines, men, breathe, and eyes. Most poets do not use abstract or concrete diction uniformly (Deblanco and Cheuse 75). Shakespeare had to move back and forth between dictions in order to make the poem sound. Abstract diction is more general, because it refers to terms that you cannot touch, see, smell, feel or taste.
Examples of abstract diction are love, freedom, sexism, morale, etc… Shakespeare uses abstract diction much more freely throughout the poem, perhaps because abstract diction is much easier to use for his need to achieve imagery. He uses the phrases “Thou art more lovely and more temperate” (Shakespeare 76), lovely being the abstract term in this phrase. Same concept applies to the phrase “But thy eternal summer shall not fade”(Shakespeare 76), eternal is not something you can sense with any of your five senses.
Abstract words can also vary from person to person, because a word be interpreted differently varying on the person. In sum, throughout the entirety of the poem “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” by William Shakespeare, he uses concrete and abstract interchangeably in order to achieve a perfect balance and to incorporate imagery for the reader to visualize his words. The use of concrete and abstract diction brought Shakespeare’s poem to life, thus making the reading a pleasant experience for the reader.
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